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This Biracial Woman Says Zara Managers Called Her Braided Hair Unprofessional

Cree Ballah wants the company to review its policies.

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A former Zara employee in Toronto says her managers discriminated against her over her hair. And when she took her story public, she says she was punished by having her shifts cut without any explanation.

Cree Ballah

Cree Ballah said she had a series of confrontations with Zara managers over her hair, and was told her braided hair looked “unprofessional” and “extreme."

As a biracial woman who is half black and half Métis, Ballah told BuzzFeed Canada that braids are a way for her to connect with both sides of her heritage.

Problems first arose for the 20-year-old university student when she was told during training for her position that she couldn't have colour in her hair.

Cree Ballah

"When I got hired I had grey braids, but they told me I couldn't wear them. Company policy was against coloured hair."

But Ballah said the policy wasn't enforced evenly.

"There were white people who had grey hair, so I was kind of confused as to why my hair wasn't allowed but a person with straight hair was OK."

Ballah said things got worse when she was finished training and moved to a new store. "I put braids back in but I made sure it was my natural hair colour, just to avoid any complications."

Cree Ballah

Her HR manager approached her and told her her hair was "too extreme for the store," Ballah said.

She took her braids out of her ponytail. But the same HR manager then took her out of the store along with a second manager, where they told her "the look you have now is not the clean, professional look we're going for."

While standing outside the store, Ballah said she tried three different hairstyles for her managers, in full view of passersby, until her managers were satisfied. She told BuzzFeed Canada she found the experience humiliating.

Ballah filed a complaint over her treatment, which she had to file it with the same HR manager who had reprimanded her. After she gave an interview to City News and CBC, she said her shifts started being moved or simply cut from the schedule.

Cree Ballah

A spokesperson for Zara denied that managers cut Ballah's hours.

Ballah said things came to a head in a meeting that included company directors. In this meeting, she said she was pressured to sign a confidentiality agreement, and that the company seemed intent on scolding her and minimizing the actual incident.

"The meeting was definitely intimidating," she said.

Ballah no longer works at Zara, but she says she still wants the company to look at its training and policies.

Zara says the company is a diverse and multicultural workplace, and that there is no formal policy about employee hairstyles.

"Zara would never, under any circumstances, ask an employee to remove his or her braids, and in fact, we have employees with a wide variety of hairstyles, including many styles of braids," the company said.

"Zara engaged directly with Ms. Ballah on this matter and apologized for any misunderstanding."

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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